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It is difficult to generalize about the relationship of specific courses to specific jobs in state and local government. If you are interested in a career in this sector, you will benefit from courses in state and local government, public policy, and public administration. In addition, state and local public finance, budgeting, and intergovernmental relations are often recommended.
Beyond this, it is obvious that some courses will enhance your background for specific jobs. The student seeking employment in a state department of education, for example, would be advised to take one or two courses in the field of state and local education policy. Similarly, anyone interested in working on the staff of a state legislature ought to take a course on the state legislative process.
It should be noted that the ability to handle quantifiable data is increasingly important, no matter what the job. You must be able to make sense out of statistics, because they are almost always at the heart of information used in policymaking.
Most departments of political science offer at least one or two undergraduate courses that will allow you to become familiar with the use of statistics and the relevant computer software. Students who shy away from these courses on the grounds that they “do not like math” are likely to be at a disadvantage in both the short and long run. In addition, the ability to perform online research is a real asset. With the vast An internship is a amount of data available on the Internet, skill in valuable learning doing comparative research with other jurisdictions experience for any is a plus on any employment application.
political science Wherever possible, a student aspiring to a major, regardless career in state and local government ought to intern of career choice. as part of his or her undergraduate program. An internship is a valuable learning experience for any political science major, regardless of career choice. It also may help in making a decision on a career, and it will strengthen one’s candidacy for a position in government. In a number of cases, students have been offered employment after they graduated from college in the offices in which they have interned. The University of Texas has developed a data base of city, county, state, and Federal intern programs at www.utexas.edu/lbj/osap/career/students/links/mip.html, and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) web site has a State and Local Government list of internship data bases www.naspaa.org/students/careers/internships.asp.
It is also useful to identify and contact the “institute of government” or public policy center in your state. These are usually attached to at least one public university, especially those located in state capitals. The centers typically have connections through research and internships with state legislative and executive agencies. Check with the faculty member who teaches state and local government at your school for more information.
Undergraduates planning to seek careers in state and local government might also seriously consider obtaining a master’s degree in politics and public policy, public administration, or in a specific policy area. Some of these master’s programs are offered by public policy schools, some by political science departments, and others by several departments in interdisciplinary programs. Whatever the particular program, a master’s degree is usually valuable in the marketplace, helping in one’s quest for an initial job and in the progression through the ranks.
THE STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT JOB MARKET
There are approximately 87,500 local governments in America. Employment in state and local governments has generally been rising. Entry-level jobs are available, and governments are major employers for political science graduates.
Most positions, with civil-servant status or the equivalent, are located in the departments and agencies of state and city government. A limited number of jobs are available with chief executives at the state, county, and local levels. A variety of positions are also available with state legislatures or county and local councils.
Legislatures in over half the states hire nonpartisan staffs engaged in bill drafting, research, fiscal analysis, and post-audit duties. In almost 50 percent of the states, partisan staff are employed by the Democratic and Republican parties in the legislature. In about one-third of the states, individual members hire an aide or two to serve in their district and/or capital offices.
It is always the case, of course, that being a resident of the state or local community or having attended college in the state improves the chances of any job applicant.
Fascinating opportunities for the student interested in public policy and administration also exist in the many quasi-public authorities and agencies that have become so prevalent, such as regional transportation authorities, metropolitan planning agencies, and even, surprisingly, waterworks and sanitation districts. Anyone who has lived in a community facing a water shortage or struggling with where to build a new landfill knows that this is politics at its most vigorous. Often these authorities and agencies will manage their own hiring separate from city or state personnel agencies.
Experience in state and local government is often transferable to other jurisdictions or the federal government. For example, managers from transit authorities Careers in Political Science frequently climb up the career ladder by moving from state to state. Contacts made at the state and local levels may be helpful in obtaining a federal job. Many trade associations and interest groups have state or regional offices that are stepping-stones to the national organization. Movement between the public and private sectors may be common practice in your state. See the chapter on nonprofits for further discussion.
THE MECHANICS OF JOB PLACEMENT
There are many strategies that you may use to find a job in state and local government. You should consult a government’s web site using the portals listed in this book, or you should visit the career office on campus for a variety of brochures published by a state’s civil service commission or department of personnel. Recruitment announcements may also be posted on the bulletin board of the political science department. Many state and city personnel agencies actively recruit on campus, and you can often meet with agency representatives there. Write both to the department in which you seek employment and to the central personnel agency. Most states distribute periodic career opportunities bulletins, and you may request that your name be put on a mailing list. Finally, a trip to the state capital to meet with the staff of a departmental or central personnel office may be worthwhile.
Some states will recruit on the basis of a general aptitude test and also require a bachelor’s degree. Other states will require a specific examination for a particular agency. The general rule is that the more technical the job, the greater the likelihood of a special examination.
If you want a position with the executive branch of state government, you should contact a state senator and state representative. One of the roles of legislators is to help constituents with information on job opportunities and the procedures that have to be followed. Some legislators are also willing to write a referral letter, which may aid your job search.
If you are interested in working for the legislature, you should become familiar with the organization of the legislative staff. In the majority of states, a central unit— called a legislative council, legislative services agency, or the like—does most of the hiring. The office of a senator or representative is a good place to begin the search.
It is important for you to acquire as much understanding as possible about the role and operation of the individual or unit with whom you seek employment, especially for positions with executive officials or in legislatures. The more knowledgeable you becomes, the more likely you will be able to demonstrate abilities to the interviewer that match the employer’s needs. Thus, it is worth the effort to locate sources of information that pertain to the specific job being sought.
RESOURCESThere are a number of relatively new groups that have sprung up as a result of the information technology revolution. One is Public Technology, Inc. http:// pti.nw. dc.us, a nonprofit technology organization for all cities and counties in America (sponsored by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association). Another is the National Association of State Information Resource Executives www.nascio.org.
The Washington Area State Relations Group www.wasrg.com provides educational and networking opportunities to state government affairs professionals, officials, lobbyists, association staff, and vendor/services representatives in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Internet has made state and local job searches much easier. In the past, applicants were advised to scour the government agency listings in the phone book (usually the “blue” pages) and ask their contacts. Although you should still do this, there are now web sites that contain information on government jobs nationwide and in every subject.
Several portals have a wide range of state and local resources:
lcweb.loc.gov/global/state/stategov.html www.statelocal.gov www.govspot.com www.piperinfo.com/state/index.cfm www.naspaa.org/students/careers/service.asp.
GovtJobs at www.govjobs.net lists jobs available in state and local government such as public works director, Fayetteville, Arkansas; senior transportation planner, Alameda County, California; and city administrator, Hiawatha, Kansas.
NASPAA and several other web sites have links to jobs in each state.
The Piper Resources web site www.statelocalgov.net lists some regional links such as the Appalachian Regional Commission, Great Lakes Commission, Multistate Tax Commission, and Southern States Energy Board. In addition, this site lists national organizations—for example, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and the National Association of State Personnel Executives—that are useful for research and locating jobs.
Many of these sites list job vacancies for their organization and vacancies in the
profession. The major organizations of state and local officials include:
Careers in Political Science
Council of State Governments www.statesnews.org National Conference of State Legislatures www.ncsl.org National Association of Counties www.naco.org Local Government Institute www.lgi.org International City/County Management Association www.icma.org National Governors Association www.nga.org National League of Cities www.nlc.org U.S. Conference of Mayors www.usmayors.org.
Director, federal government relations; executive director, Research Atlanta; vice president, political affairs, Telecommunications Industry Association; director, regulatory affairs; field officer, Human Rights Campaign; research analyst, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, George Washington University; manager, grassroots division, National Rifle Association; political director, AFL-CIO; director, federal environmental affairs; senior vice president, policy development, American Public Transit Association; director, political action committee, Associated Builders and Contractors; manager, international trade policy; senior research analyst, budget analyst, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; program manager, Natural Resources Defense Council; senior Washington representative, Detroit Edison Company.
THE NATURE OF THE CAREER
Since about 1960, building on an American tradition of political activism by voluntary associations, there has been an explosion in the number and variety of groups taking an active role at every level of government. This translates into thousands of jobs for political science graduates. Citizens’ groups—broadly based and wide-ranging organizations, such as Common Cause, and more narrowly focused groups concerned about issues such as aiding the handicapped or ending capital punishment— have grown impressively in number and influence. And as the impact of government is felt far and wide in society, many organizations that once hardly noticed political affairs now pay close attention.
This vast expansion of attention to the policymaking process has resulted in the need for employees who understand how governments function in the United States, and whose skills include the ability to analyze and assess public policy as well as to plan ways to affect favorably the outcomes of political processes. Many of these people are lobbyists—they advocate for particular policy choices on behalf of their Careers in Political Science employer or client and try to persuade public officials to see the situation their way.
There are approximately 25,000 national associations and about 65,000 state, local, regional, and international associations headquartered in the United States. The highest concentration of associations is in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, followed by New York and Chicago. In fact, associations rank as the third-largest industry in Washington, behind only the federal government and tourism.
There are a lot of terms used for those who work in this broadly defined sector.